Business continuity requires reliable, secure and fast connectivity for remote branch offices. Business agility requires organizations to connect more users and IoT devices in rapidly changing locations. Distributed organizations are deploying software-defined branches, as the technology can deliver significant benefits in terms of deployment speed, ease of operation and cost savings.
Advances in networking and virtualization software enable the packaging of a wide range of network functions onto a unified platform. The software-defined branch (SD-branch) simplifies network operations by consolidating WAN connectivity — software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and routing — network security, LAN and Wi-Fi in a unified platform that is easy to deploy and manage. IT organizations should consider SD-branch technology for some of their remote connectivity challenges.
Currently, IT organizations face the challenge of deploying branch networks, with the requirement to manage and operate four to six distinct networks and security boxes at the branch — like Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi, routers, SD-WAN and firewalls. Each box or network software element has a unique operations and management console. As such, troubleshooting remote WAN branches outages and performance degradations from a centralized location can be especially vexing.
SD-branch eliminates many of the challenges of integrating multiple LAN, WAN and security products at branch locations. IT professionals can rapidly deploy SD-branch as a complete platform. Using a centralized management console, they can control and adjust all of the branch network and security functions. SD-branch makes it easier for IT teams to identify and remediate application slowdowns that are harmful to digital enterprises.
Implementing SD-branch in 2019
Many network and security vendors currently deliver SD-branch options, including Cisco Meraki, Cradlepoint, Fortinet, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Aruba Networks, Riverbed and Versa Networks. SD-branch vendors use internally developed technology, as well as technology from third-party suppliers, to deliver comprehensive SD-branch functionality. As with any integrated product, some of the network or security elements are stronger than others.
IT organizations can source SD-branch directly from suppliers, from channel partners — value-added resellers and system integrators — and from managed service providers. Over time, service providers will offer managed SD-branch, with integrated WAN bandwidth packages — both wired and wireless.
During 2019, distributed organizations will move from piloting SD-branch technology to broader implementation for greenfield and branch network refresh projects. Doyle Research expects the SD-branch market to grow from several hundred million dollars in 2019 to several billion dollars by 2023.
Examples of SD-branch deployment
Cisco Meraki. A leading automotive manufacturer has deployed Meraki products at more than 800 of its dealerships to provide LAN, WAN and network security. The manufacturer’s key application is car customization that allows sales personnel to quickly provide potential customers with a product that best meets their needs.
Riverbed. A retail chain specializing in lighting and fan fixtures deployed Riverbed products at more than 90 branches for LAN and WAN connectivity. Key in-store applications include inventory systems, order tracking, customer relationship management, employee time tracking and HR systems.
Cradlepoint. A self-storage provider deployed Cradlepoint products at more than 700 locations for 4G Long Term Evolution connectivity, with routing, SD-WAN and security functionality. The key applications at each site include VoIP, inventory, customer Wi-Fi, point of sale and surveillance cameras.
Versa Networks. A leading financial services firm deployed products from Versa Networks at more than 300 retail branch locations for hybrid SD-WAN, guest Wi-Fi and routing. The organization realized significant benefits in terms of faster time to deploy new locations, better network traffic visibility and improved centralized management.
Aruba Networks. A large real estate agency in Europe deployed Aruba products at more than 500 branch locations for Wi-Fi, wired, SD-WAN and security with role-based policies. The Aruba products support key applications, such as Office 365, Skype for Business and optimizing services over multiple WAN links.
SD-branch beginning to prove itself
Networking remote branch offices is an important and complex challenge for many IT organizations. SD-branch technology has now matured to the point of reliable implementation for many branch locations, and it has proven itself in a number of examples of deployment across major vertical industries and geographies.
SD-branch provides significant benefits in terms of ease of installation, reduced complexity, ease of operations and lower costs. IT leaders should consider SD-branch for a range of applications, including greenfield deployments, temporary sites and as an upgrade or replacement for smaller branch offices, retail stores, restaurants and kiosks. As SD-branch technology continues to improve over time, it will become the standard architecture for branch networking.